Volleyball Cookies

Again, the cookies I share are a reflection of what's been going on with me!
This fall, I entered the busy world of school sports.

My oldest played on the middle school volleyball team and well, LOVED IT!
She bumps that ball around the house, in the yard and whenever anyone will play with her.

She had a great experience with great coaches and a really strong team (undefeated to be exact).
She picked up some great skills and improved throughout the season.

But the most valuable things she gained were friendship, confidence, passion, hard work and teamwork!  Those are the lessons you just can't buy for your kids, but you thank your lucky stars when they come!  So as they closed the season as champions of their tournament, I shared the only excitement I know how to contribute...


And the preteen crew freaked out and squealed enough for me to know, they loved them!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies- Quest for the Best

I often try a few recipes at a time.  It's like hosting my own personal recipe contest.

It's just for my own purposes.  And I know it's not normal.  But I always wonder if there could be a better recipe out there, and I think side by side taste testing is the best way to pick a favorite recipe. Sometimes the results are clear cut, and sometimes they are all good and comes down to personal taste. Sometimes I don't love any of them and I try a new set of recipes.  I'm not saying my final opinion is anything more than an opinion.  It's just how I roll and and how a recipe becomes my gold standard.  Until I decide to challenge it, that is!

But I don't just decide on my taste buds alone.  I drag my neighbors and available friends into taste testing and offering their votes.  Often when I blog, I just share the final result, my favorite.  But I thought it would be fun to let you guys in on my results and conclusions.  

So this time I was on a quest to find the best pumpkin whoopie pie recipe...
whoopie pies copy

The cookies were all very different, but all very good.  

Each recipe had fans and was voted the best some.  But here are the summarized results:
RECIPE ONE- This one was more cookie-like than cake-like.  It was similar to a pumpkin flavored sugar cookie or pumpkin sandies cookie.  The pumpkin flavor was more subtle.  The marshmallow filling was good and firm.  The taste of both together was a bit of a sugar rush for me.  Very sweet!  Made 28 cookies, 14 whoopie pies.  (1 Tbsp. scoop)
RECIPE TWO- With the largest ratio of spices, it was the most flavor rich cookie.  The filling was cream cheese based and a perfect combo.  Most kids didn't like this one as much because of the strong flavor.  One friend said it almost tasted gingerbread-ish/Christmas-y.  But you could definitely taste the pumpkin as well.  They were cake-like and very moist!  So soft!  Made 61 cookies, 30 whoopie pies
RECIPE THREE- {WINNER} This one got the most votes for #1 and I think was the most classic pumpkin flavor.  It was full of spice, but the pumpkin won out as the strongest flavor.  It was moist and cake-like.  The cream cheese filling was great and very similar to the filling in #2.  Made 44 cookies, 22 whoopie pies.


After I picked my favorite, I made, um.... several batches and tweaked it just a hair.  


Here is the recipe I used (adapted from the fabulous recipe here)

Sift together these ingredients in a bowl, and set aside.  
3 cups all purpose Flour 
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all in an electric mixer:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 - 15 oz. can of pumpkin
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time.  Don't over-mix.  
Line cookie sheets with parchment, or a sil-pat nonstick liner.  Use a 1 Tbsp scoop to drop cookies.  Take a slightly wet finger and pat down peaks, and make cookies a bit flatter and more round.  

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Let them cool before you fill them.  

Cream Cheese Filling- you will have a bit left of this, but I like to fill them pretty generously.  I filled a piping bag and swirled them on like a cupcake!  
16 oz cream cheese (2 packages)
1 cup butter
1 2lb. bag of powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Refrigerate if you aren't eating them right away.  I actually loved them chilled and firm.  But you can let them come to room temp too.  The filling will squish out more when you eat them warm.  


I'm just as obsessed with getting the packaging right as I am with getting the recipe right.  I can't tell you how many hours I surfed the web/shopped in pursuit of baked goods packaging.  But sometimes the perfect packaging isn't a traditional cake box.  

For the whoopie pies, I ended up using floral/corsage boxes.  I bought them at my local floral supply store and they were reasonably priced.  I protected the food with a cupcake wrapper and lined the box with filler to stabilize them a little.

It was the perfect little nest for these darling cookie sandwiches.  

Then I added some fall flavor with a burlap wrap, some pretty preserved leaves and satin ribbon.  

Beautiful packaging can turn a simple gift into a thoughtful gesture.  Just my humble opinion.

It also makes delivering sweet gifts a breeze.  

I loved using the bigger floral boxes for a more substantial gift.  The long, narrow shape is a bit unexpected and fit 16 whoopie pies perfectly.  

I'm sure that these could be put in a cake box, but I do enjoy the clear packaging, so that people can get excited about their treat before they even open the box!  
IMG_6459 copy

I hope this wasn't TMI as I walked you through my entire thought process while making these treats. But alas, I think this "quest for the best" was successful.  

p.s. Happy Thanksgiving!  My sweet blog readers are among the blessings I'm thankful for!

Johnny Appleseed Cookies

Many times, my cookies revolve around my life, and my kids.  

When it's Johnny Appleseed at school, we need apples with seeds.  

When it's a Harvest party (two days) I need ___________ cookies.  
{I haven't decided what to make yet!}  

But I often make cookies for other occasions, and my kids have developed quite a sense of self-control around a table full of cookies.  They know when they are off limits from all of the cookie-policing I do.  (They do get to dig in when I have a mess-up though).  

But when the cookies are made especially for them, they guard the table themselves, saying, "NO!  These are for my class!"  I love making cookies for my kids.  A class party is one of the best reasons to make cookies!  And Johnny Appleseed day was no different.  

To make these, I used medium consistency (10ish seconds)  red, made an outline and let it dry for several hours.  Then I used a medium consistency white and immediately dropped black dots on the wet white.  Then I took a toothpick to drag a point out on that black dot...so it looked like a seed!  For the leaf, I used a stiff consistency and a leaf tip.

For more on cookie making, go to this post.  And check out some other apple cookies in this post.

Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery- Review

I am beyond thrilled to review the Martha Stewart Home Office™ with Avery™ line which I recently received to try out. I've referenced Martha many times here on this blog. Thanks to DVR, I never missed one of her live shows the past several years.
My mom taught me so much but passed away when I was young, so Martha filled in and taught me so many other aspects of homemaking. It was the Martha Stewart show where I first learned about decorating sugar cookies with royal icing! I've come to trust the things she puts her name on. I love her paint line at Home Depot, her craft line at Michael's, and her cookware at Macy's. So I was thrilled to see that her new line of office products will be sold exclusively at Staples! Martha and office products are two of my favorite things!
It's been a goal of mine to organize my home office/craft space all year! I've struggled with it a little, so I welcomed any products that might help me out.

I really love this Shagreen Accordion File starting with the color! It is well made, expands on the top and bottom, and can stand freely or lay on a shelf. I always need more files!

My daughter quickly up and ran off with these Corner Lock™ High Capacity Document Sleeves, saying, "Mom, I need these so bad!" They look really sturdy and have a nice overlapping corner on top to keep things from slipping out.

This Shagreen hanging pocket came in handy in this little corner. It includes matching push pins to hang pockets on walls or corkboards. Or you can use the adhesive on the back that removes cleanly from surfaces. These pockets are expandable and hold quite a bit (up to 50 pages!) I had too much paper clutter in this area that my magnet board would no longer hold, so it was a great solution.

I really had fun with the Chalkboard Labels! I messed up several times and found that they erase cleanly and easily. They also peel off without a trace. Yep, I messed up with that too. There are several sizes and styles available.

I used the Chalkboard Labels here in my little gift wrap corner. I have my wrapping paper in large glass vases, my bags, boxes and tissue paper in a beverage container. (whatever works, right?) and my tulle in another little bin. During the holiday season, this is my go-to little wrapping corner, and it is now ready to go!!

I have my sewing stuff on a little bookshelf, and I couldn't resist labeling my fabric scrap jar.

I used the Stack+Fit™ modular line to create some desk organization. I organized envelopes and notepads and set it on right on my desk. There are more modular pieces available that are designed to fit perfectly atop or alongside each other.

I love wrapping gifts, and I can appreciate a good, quality wrapping paper. The Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery holiday paper did not disappoint! It's durable enough to mail and pretty enough to go right under the tree! 

Beautiful shipping paper, tape, padded envelopes, and printable mailing labels let you send holiday packages that are so festive, there’s no rewrapping required! These holiday wrapping and shipping products are available in-store at Staples. And I love that the outside of the box could match the wrapping on the inside!

Everything for this review was packaged so beautifully in glittery paper shreds. (Of course Styrofoam peanuts won't do for Martha). It was topped off with a hand written note from someone on her team, thanking me for participating in this campaign. Yes, everything is done so well. I love Martha products, and I can't wait to go to Staples to get more!

(Did you notice I actually used those paper shreds this stuff was packed in, on top of a gift!)

Here is a link where you can buy Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery on Staples.com.
Here is more information about the products.
You can also learn more on the Avery Facebook page.
I'm excited that one of my readers will win a $100 Staples gift card as part of this review! To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment telling me which of the Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery office/shipping products you love the most and you'll be entered to win! Good luck!
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You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
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This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 11/14/12-12/14/12.
Be sure to visit the Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win!

Simple Pleasures are the Best

It's getting colder and one of my favorite things about cold weather is hot chocolate!

Last year, with a revolving door of house guests, I left the hot chocolate out on a tray with marshmallows and candy canes.  It was a huge hit with kids as they helped themselves at the mini hot chocolate bar.  I'm just wondering if it's too early to bring this tray back out this year???

And in my humble hot chocolate opinion, Stephen's brand hot cocoa is the best!  
My very favorite is the chocolate mint truffle flavor!
At holiday time, you can score the candycane flavor, which is awesome too!

It's pretty easy to excite me, because simple pleasures are enough to make my day. For example...
Hot Chocolate + A Homemade Quilt + My Husband + a Red Box = Best Date Night!

I think a hot chocolate tray might make your day too, so I thought I'd share!

Turkey Cookie Place Card Holders

Thanksgiving is fast approaching!   I do love to cook.  But I might love planning out the table decor just as much.  And a fabulous place card/holder can make your table look really special.  I shared this idea on eighteen25 last year and I wanted to share it here!

I think this gives a wonderful personal touch!

Everyone that arrives is going to feel pretty flattered that you made the extra effort!

I started with my tried and true recipes for sugar cookies and royal icing.  Then I reached for one of my favorite cookies cutter sets, my scalloped squares.  If you are going to invest in sets.  I love this one and the scalloped circle one too.

This post will tell you all about different consistencies of royal icing.  I use americolor gel paste colors to tint and then prepare them in different squeezies.  I use a toothpick on top to keep them from drying out.

There is a lot to talk about with consistencies and techniques.  But for this cookie, decide your base color and make 2 thicknesses.  You will need a thick (20/25 second) royal icing and a thin (6/7 second) royal icing to fill it.

Make an outline with the thicker icing.  Then fill from the outside in with the thinner one.  If you fill right away you can make that outline disappear.  If you let the outline dry, it will show a little.  Then you need to pop those pesky air bubbles with a toothpick until you have a smooth surface.  You only have about a minute to do this before it starts to dry and leave marks.  Try to shake the cookie horizontally if that happens, you may still have a chance of them flattening out.  Let your base layer dry for 12-24 hours.

For the turkey feathers, I used what's called a "brush embroidery" technique.  I talked about it in these vintage cookies.  You will use fairly stiff (20 secondish) royal icing for this part.  You can use a #2 or #3 tip. You will need a new paint brush that you can dedicate to your frostings, not paintings.  Start with a scalloped line, then while it's wet, brush inward.  Wipe your brush on a damp paper towel every few strokes so you won't get too much build up.

Don't you love how it gives it texture!?  And it's strangely fun and addicting.  You've been warned.  Let each layer dry for at least an hour before you do another one.  This is one of those things you do a little, then run some laundry and errands, then you come back to it...

After your feathers are dry, you are going to make a little pear shaped body with a medium (10 second) brown icing.  Start with an outline and fill.

After that dries, make a little triangle beak.  I make a small dot and with a toothpick, drag the corners out.  Then you have to do the little gobbler with that same red.  And the finishing touch on your turkey is eyes and legs.  I used an edible ink pen, but you could certainly use royal icing.

For the names, I switched out my #2 tip for a #1 tip.  I like fine point pens!

Now these beauties need to be loved and adored because they took 278 steps, right?

So I put them in these simple little display stands (which will pretty much always be cookie stands) that I found at JoAnns.  They have many versions of mini table easels at any craft store.

I like it right on top of the plate, but you can scoot it back and still enjoy it when you have the actual turkey on  your plate.

My husband would much prefer his to say "head chef" than Dad.  He takes pride in his meal.  But this little joke got me thinking that if you weren't hosting, you could give them as a hostess gift.

Even if you don't have the stands, they make a really pretty statement at your Thanksgiving table.  If you wrap it, they can take it home and save it for later.  So you basically just made a party favor too.  Aww yeah, place cards and favors.  Two for one!  I love a good deal!

My husband is actually getting surgery two days before Thanksgiving this year, so I'm on my own!  I think I may make these in advance and pop them in the freezer.  I have had great luck with freezing cookies.  As soon as they are dry enough to put in a cellophane bag, I package them and put them in the freezer.  I've done this for up to a month and they tasted great.  I take them out of the freezer about 12 hours before I need them and they taste great.  (I am currently experimenting with some longer freezing and I'll let you know how that goes).  But to make a long story short, I can get these done now and worry about the rest of the menu when it's "go time."

Not Just Soccer Cookies

This post isn't just about soccer cookies for me.

{Although, I wanted to share these cookies.  
My kopykake and 2 icing consistencies per color 
(one for outlining, one for filling) made these simple.} 

This post is about an amazing season of soccer for my little guy!

You see, this cute 5 year old was premature.  He caught me off guard when my water broke 7 weeks early.  His first year was full of worry, weight checks, specialist appointments, supplementing, worry, delayed development, worry, physical therapy and worry.  He tested on track for cognitive markers, but he was always most behind in his gross motor development.  He never crawled.  After tons of physical therapy, he finally just decided to walk.  Even still, he was behind.

Well, time was good to him and he "caught up" by about 23 months when he graduated from therapy.  Even still, a little bit of worry always remained in the back of my mind.

So to see him not only keep up, but to really excel in something so "gross motor" just makes my heart sing!  When I see him go after that ball with all his might, be aggressive and fearless to get in there at that ball, and score like crazy, well...

I just think back to how far he has come.

And I am so beyond thankful for the health and strength he has been blessed with.

p.s.  This heart full of gratitude is ready for Thanksgiving!  Let the cooking begin!
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